How Project 1619 triggered the backlash for “Critical Race Theory”

This story of Cathryn Stout, Sam Park, Dan Lyon and Monica Rhor appeared on on July 19, 2021.

A flare-up of conservative backlash ignited in 2019 when The New York Times published The 1619 Project and the opening commentary by Nikole Hannah-Jones. Conservative critics have fueled heated debates over the role of critical race theory in the classroom and, more recently, the journalist’s tenure battle with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today, critical race theory – or the study of how racism shapes laws, policies, and society – is familiar to most, as is the debate over how race plays a role. in the teaching of American history.

Chalkbeat has followed at least 27 state-level efforts to stop educators from discussing systemic racism, critical race theory, and Project 1619. Bans and political pressure affect millions of students, d nationwide educators and administrators by inhibiting classroom conversations about racial injustice. To recount how Hannah-Jones’s work and the tenure controversy contributed to this transformative moment in the teaching of history and educational policy, Chalkbeat has created a timeline of key events.

August 2019
The New York Times launches Project 1619, the brainchild of Hannah-Jones, a veteran journalist and recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Engineering Grant”. The series of articles and columns commemorate the date, 400 years ago, when about two dozen African slaves landed near Kikotan or Point Comfort, now located in Hampton, Virginia. According to the series, their arrival in 1619 represents the expansion of American slavery and the “founding contradictions” of American colonial history. Three months later, Hannah-Jones won the Distinguished Alumna Award from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

December 2019
The New York Times publishes a letter from five historians denouncing what they called a “misleading” project and noting the newspaper’s plan to broadcast the series to schools. That same month, the Pulitzer Center, an educational outreach organization that promotes democracy through journalism, released its annual report, which details the successful educational partnership between the Center and Project 1619. The report states that thousands of educators in each state used the lesson plans provided. He adds, “Five school systems have adopted the project district-wide: Buffalo, New York; Chicago; Washington DC; Wilmington, Delaware; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

May 2020
Hannah-Jones wins Pulitzer Prize for commentary. In its quote, the committee recognized Hannah-Jones for her staging essay “which seeks to place African slavery at the center of American history, sparking a public conversation about the founding and evolution of the nation “. Days later, the world is watching white cop Derek Chauvin murder George Floyd, a black resident of Minneapolis. The incident led to days of racial unrest, which Hannah-Jones recounts through the prism of critical race theory in her column, “What is Due.”

A tweet from President Donald Trump denounces the teaching of Project 1619 in schools, announcing that funding would be cut by the Department of Education to schools that taught the project as part of their curriculum.

September 2020
The Trump administration is taking several steps to restrict the use of Project 1619 and Critical Race Theory in public institutions. On September 4, the administration sent a note to heads of federal agencies urging them to cease all training on “critical race theory”, “white privilege” or any other training or propaganda effort. On September 6, President Donald Trump tweeted that no schools using Project 1619 “will be funded!”

On September 17, at the White House Conference on American History, Trump announced the formation of the 1776 Commission. During his speech, he stated that “Critical Race Theory, Project 1619 and crusade against American history is toxic propaganda. ” And on September 22, he published his “Executive Ordinance on the fight against racist and sexual stereotypes”. The wave of legislation banning Critical Race Theory and Project 1619 in public schools uses much of the same language as that of this decree.

January 2021

On January 6, Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol, mistakenly claiming that state election officials rigged the vote results to secure the victory of then-President-elect Joe Biden. In his last days in office, Trump’s controversial 1776 Commission releases its report. In a press release, Trump describes the report as “a decisive rebuttal of reckless attempts at ‘re-education’ that seek to reframe American history around the idea that the United States is not an exceptional country but an evil country. “.

February 2021
Fox News reports that the Legal Insurrection Foundation of Rhode Island has launched, a website that tracks alleged uses of Critical Race Theory and Project 1619 in the classroom. Later in the month, the Pulitzer Center launches the Project 1619 Educational Network. Educators selected for the inaugural cohort receive $ 5,000 grants to help fund podcasts and other creative projects that incorporate the New York series. Times. In February, Republican lawmakers in Iowa, Georgia and Arkansas introduced bills to block the use of Project 1619 and Critical Race Theory in the classroom. This year, Chalkbeat has tracked at least 27 state-level efforts to stop educators from using Critical Race Theory and Project 1619.

April 2021
The Biden administration announces the creation of the American History and Civics Scholarships to promote “culturally appropriate education.” And on April 26, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill announces that Hannah-Jones will join the university as the first African-American to hold the Knight Chair in Racial and Investigative Journalism, a position historically held by a full member of the faculty.

May 2021
Three weeks after the announcement and following the backlash surrounding it, NC Policy Watch reports that administrators voted earlier to deny Hannah-Jones’ tenure, a statute that grants faculty members security employment and substantial academic freedom. Among those opposed to Hannah-Jones joining UNC were writers for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. The conservative think tank was previously called the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy and was funded by the Pope family. Pope previously served on the UNC Board of Trustees. His son and conservative donor Art Pope currently sits on the UNC Board of Governors. Art Pope denies any involvement in the decision of tenure.

June 2021
In the wake of public outcry and student protests, the UNC board changes course and approves Hannah-Jones’ tenure request with a 9-4 vote.

July 2021
Hannah-Jones declines the permanent position at the University of North Carolina and announces that she will instead join Howard University, a historically black institution, in a permanent position as the first Knight Chair in race and reporting. In a July 7 interview on CNN, she said, “Trying to really shut me up at the [University of North Carolina] is part of a wave of those anti-1619, anti-racial-critical, anti-history bills that are being passed. And they’re passed in the same legislatures that also pass voter suppression laws, so those two things go hand in hand. “

Chalkbeat is a non-profit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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